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So this morning my Twitter feed exploded with the latest iteration of the eternal, asinine debate: should we allow strollers on public transit? In this case: should we charge extra for strollers?

Because there is NO OTHER POSSIBLE REASON for our system to be overtaxed than the selfish choice of your Roncesvalles and Leslieville yummy mummies overloading it with their little Peytons and Vanessas in their Bugaboo Frogs, right?

SO LET’S STOP FOR A MINUTE. I haven’t got a lot of time to write this because I have to take Gus to the vet for a follow-up ultrasound – DOGS ON THE TTC! – but I have pretty much exactly three things to say about this.

1) Let’s check our class assumptions for a moment, shall we? The so-called “rich bitches” pushing those $800 strollers are a minority of mothers. (They are also not necessarily rich – there is a thriving second-hand stroller market and grandparents will frequently buy a nice stroller. They are also not necessarily bitches. I know a fair number of these ladies and they are the same mix of awesome, normal, and awful as everyone else.) Also those $800 strollers are usually much more compact than the $150 Safety 1st stroller you get on sale at Walmart. The woman you fume at for taking up so much space on transit with her infant probably has no choice when it comes to transportation. [Note: this paragraph has been edited to correct some unfortunate implications. “Rich bitches” is a common characterization of certain mothers, not my opinion of them. -kmh]
2) AND EVEN IF SHE DID – even if she has a nice safe car at home to whisk her child around town without exposing you to the indignity of having to share space with a tiny human being, she still has the right to use public services. As does her child. And be honest, when you see a woman driving a car with an infant in the back, do you say something like “Look at that selfish bitch, polluting the environment”? I bet you do.
3) AND HEY SPEAKING OF BABIES BEING HUMAN. Babies are human. They are not miniature robots designed with the express purpose of annoying you. They are human beings and members of our society, they have legitimate needs and desires, and have the right to use the same services as anyone else.

No matter what they do, mothers can’t win. I tweeted about this extensively this morning, so you may want to skip this if you follow me on Twitter, but I feel the need to go into it again. You are excoriated for being environmentally irresponsible by procreating, but also for being environmentally responsible by taking your child on public transit. You are told over and over again that you have to breastfeed or you’re a horrible selfish parent, yet people give you everything from the side-eye to the horrified stare to outright discrimination if you do it in public. You are expected to bring up a perfectly socialized child…without ever bringing them into society, because you can’t expect people in stores or restaurants or, hell, streetcars to put up with your child crying or whining or running around or otherwise acting like a child. Mothering is expected to be perfect, joyous, and invisible.

And I am really, really done with trying to live up to that impossible standard. Let me tell you a story.

Last May I was home alone with the baby for several days. Ben was away on tour for almost a month, but I did have either my mother or my mother-in-law here for a lot of that time. Anyway, during the time I was alone, Cecil knocked over my phone and broke the screen. The only place I could take it to be repaired was near the goddamn Skydome. I also had to get a birthday present for my dad (Bobby Flay’s Grill It!), and the only place I could find it for sale downtown was the Eaton Centre. So on a Tuesday towards the end of May I put Cecil (then about 3 months and 12 pounds) in the ring sling and went out to do these errands.

Have you ever slung a 12-pound weight around your neck and carried it around in 27 degree weather for four hours? It gets really, really heavy, and really, really hot, and really, really squirmy and uncomfortable when it’s a living creature who would rather not be confined in yards of fabric on a hot day. (To top it all off I was wearing giant rubber rain boots because the forecast called for a thunderstorm AND IT DIDN’T EVEN RAIN. Bastards.) But I did it, because the only stroller I could use with him at the time*, a giant plastic monstrosity, was much too large to take on the subway and streetcar.

And you know what? I still got funny looks and judgement and assholes questioning my right to exist in public space with my infant. No matter WHAT you do, whether you drag your huge-ass stroller up and down the subway steps or bite the bullet and carry your infant in a decidedly un-ergonomic sling for hours and hours on a hot day, SOMEONE will feel they have the right to tell you to GTFO.**

I still take (11-month old, almost 20 pound) Cecil around in a carrier – an Ergo, because he’s long outgrown the ring-sling – but if I need to, I do not hesitate to take my stroller. For one thing, he will only put up with being in the carrier for so long, being a very active near-toddler, and for the other, I do not want to carry 20 pounds of unhappy human if I don’t have to. And I shouldn’t have to in order to access a public service that is as much mine and Cecil’s as it is yours.

And if people are going to be assholes to me no matter what I do, I might as well do what’s most comfortable for me and my child.

For all the gains women have made towards equality, for all the strides men have taken towards being more active and involved parents, things are still not equal. Women are still much more likely to be primary caregivers of their children. If you limit the access of children to a public service, especially infants, you are limiting the access of women to that service. And if that isn’t a feminist issue I don’t know what is.

*The little umbrella strollers people talk about when they say “why don’t they use those little strollers you get for $30 at Walmart?” are not suitable for babies under the age of 6 months as they don’t provide head support and can’t recline enough. We started using one with Cecil about a month earlier than you’re supposed to because it was SO HOT that it was unsafe to take him anywhere in the sling, and his head control was pretty good.

**This story, of me going really above and beyond to avoid inconveniencing my fellow transit riders, I liken to my sex ed story. Due to the woefully inadequate sex ed I received at Catholic school, when I needed to know more I went to the public library, found the Sex for Dummies book, hid in a corner, and read it cover to cover. Good for me for taking responsibility for my sexual health, I guess, but you can hardly base a system around the assumption that everyone is resourceful and a good problem-solver. You cannot expect parents to do what I did any more than you can expect teens to do what I did.

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Note: If you don’t know who John Yoo is I suggest starting with his Wikipedia page. Then listen to The Torture Memos by my band, the Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra. As you ought to know, this is a piece of creative writing that in no way reflects on the life or experience of the real John Yoo. I’m sure he has absolutely no trouble looking at himself in the mirror these days.

 

 

JOHN YOO STARES INTO THE ABYSS
A dialogue

YOO

I am not an evil man.
In fact I am rather a good one,
kind to animals, generous to beggars,
a good son, a timely taxpayer, a good neighbour.
I always pay more than my share of the dinner cheque,
I never leave my bins out after garbage day,
and my house is well-kept, neat, painted,
in accordance with the bylaws
of my Home Owner’s Association.
So tell me, Abyss, why I see your face
in this perfectly clean mirror
on this perfectly ordinary day. (more…)

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I know I haven’t posted in roughly forever, and no, I haven’t had the baby yet. I am currently three days overdue, uncomfortable, and cranky.

So perhaps that’s why this article from January’s Toronto Life irritated me so much.

I suppose I should have more sympathy for people getting by on a mere $10K or so a month, but I can’t help but find the entire exercise one of the more execrable things to appear in print in a very long time.

By way of an analogy: a couple of years ago a friend of mine dated a guy in his mid-twenties who still lived with his parents. She told me once that she was wary to get too deeply involved with him, because he had no life skills.

“He’s never had to pay rent or do his own laundry or buy groceries,” she said. “If I moved in with him I’d have to teach him how to do everything.”

So I offered to make him my intern – he could come and learn my domestic routines and budget skills. Because while I would not exactly call myself the proverbial Excellent Wife, I do have a shit ton of experience running an establisment on an income that has never quite crossed the boundary from inadequate to adequate.

Anyway, shortly after that she broke up with him for calling her a cougar in public (she was a few months shy of her 30th birthday at the time, FYI), so I never got to gather that bit of karma for myself. So in the spirit of positivity and all that crap I offer to share my experience with the cash-strapped upper-upper-upper middle class:

Budget tips for the 1%

If you find that your 10-15 grand a month just isn’t cutting it any more, here are a few simple money-saving tips from someone who is living on just a fraction of your income! In the exact same city as you, no less.

– Those really expensive cars you have? You might consider getting rid of one and sharing between the two of you, with an Autoshare membership as a back-up for when you really, really can’t do without two cars. It costs at minimum about $8000 to run a car in this city, so you’d save a lot even if you used Autoshare two or three times a week. You can also get a Metropass for about $1300/year.

– That expensive gym membership you have? You can cut seriously down on your need for that, cancelling it altogether or going for a cheaper option, by investing in a wonderful contraption called “the bicycle”. This can also take care of some of your transportation needs (see above), and will give you instant street cred with your kids, as well as something to feel superior to others over, which is clearly very important to you. (Note: I don’t recommend this to the couple in their 80s, clearly. I would suggest that if they want to save a bit they stop buying new Mercedes every three years and either stick with the cars they have or buy something a bit more modest, but hey. They’ll be dead soon enough, might as well splurge.)

– The several hundred dollars/month you spend on eating out? Because you’re too tired to cook when you get home from work? I suggest you suck it up and cook. I am frequently too tired to cook when I come home from work. I cook anyway, because I do not pull in $10000 per month and I can only rarely afford to eat out. You might want to stock up on some quick pull-together dinner things like prepared pasta sauce, prepared soups, and frozen entrees. These are less than ideal but cost a hell of a lot less than dinner out, even at Swiss Chalet.

– That $400/month you spend on wine? Buy cheaper wine. Or if you are already buying cheap wine, seek treatment, because if you’re averaging $11/bottle that’s 33.33333333 etc bottles of wine/month. If two adults are consuming more than a bottle of wine/day every day between the two of them, one or both has a problem. However, if you’re spending an average of $30/bottle that comes out to a more respectable 13.333333333 etc bottles/month. If you limited yourself to a couple of $11 bottles a week and one or two $30 bottles a month, you’d save about $250.

– That $5000 that one couple (who had no savings) spent on a chair? Buy a perfectly good chair for a couple hundred bucks and put the rest in your RRSP. Seriously. That is just dumb.

– There’s not an awful lot you can do about your mortgage, because real estate in Toronto is very expensive, but if you have the opportunity to do so consider moving to a smaller and/or less expensive house. Also turn your lights off when you leave a room and keep your furnace and air conditioning at reasonable levels, and if you run the A/C all day while you’re not there because it feels so nice to come home to a cool house, get a programmable thermostat and set it to start cooling 30 minutes before you get home. Or I will come over and beat you.

– Those nice designer clothes you wear? Wash them less frequently, every two or three times you wear them rather than every time. Trust me, no one will know, and not only will you save big on your energy bills, they’ll last a lot longer.

– Those vacations you take? Consider taking less expensive vacations. It’s nice to get away and all, but $7000/week is a bit much. You might think of travelling somewhere within Canada – hell, somewhere within driving distance – which is usually a lot cheaper than going overseas.

– And if you have kids, send them to public school. Trust me, they’re actually good here! There are even special arts and alternative schools that are hard to get in to, so little Peyton and Florence can still be superior to most children without it costing you $30000/child/year.

Anyway. I feel the need to add that I’m not hating on rich people (or marginally rich people, or people on the border of the upper-middle-class and the rich). I know a good number of people who fall into this income bracket, who have expensive cars and send their kids to private schools,  and the vast majority are very nice people who don’t complain about not having enough money. (At least not to my face.)

But this article made me feel like a bomb-throwing 19th century anarchist. It is a loathsome apologia for privilege. It exists, like a lot cultural ephemera, to massage the feelings of the well-to-do, to make really quite wealthy people feel hard done by. And like a lot of cultural ephemera it works, which is why we live in a city where it’s apparently unconscionable to ask drivers to pay $60/year for the privilege of polluting our air and clogging our streets, but totally OK to raise the price of a transit pass by that exact same amount while cutting service. Where outlying areas of the city deserve subways that will never be fully used, but poor seniors don’t deserve discount walkers. Where a cyclist’s life is put on par with a driver’s feelings. Where it’s legal to arrest and brutalize peaceful protesters, but not to peacefully protest.

I wish there were an award for the most despicable piece of journalism, because this would be a shoo-in. Well done, Toronto Life!

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I don’t have a lot of energy to write today, since I’ve taken on not only the proportions but apparently the personality of a manatee, but I just had to say – you know those people who get really angry on the internet and post very long frequently all-caps rants on blog posts?

I saw someone do that last night. In REAL LIFE.

It was at another Association for Science and Reason event (the home of the famous Mennonite Conspiracy Theorist. Though he wasn’t there) featuring Franke James, an artist who got royally screwed by Stephen Harper et al for a) being a climate change activist and b) talking shit about the tar sands. Franke gave what I can call a charming and, considering the subject matter, very positive talk, which I really enjoyed and was challenged by. The rest of the audience seemed to like it too.

The Q&A, however, was rapidly taken over by a scrawny guy called Wayne who started ranting about Hugo Chavez and how crappy solar panels are.

And didn’t stop.

I mean, if the person you’re hypothetically talking to you has to ask you three times “Do you have a question?” and then you continue to talk over her as she attempts to respond to you, dude. I know you’re angry, but step back.

And if you interrupt someone ELSE’S question by accusing the speaker of not caring about starving people (because we can ALL EAT OIL, GUYS), and THEN don’t stop talking until the organizers pre-emptively end the event, you really, really need to step back.

Anyway. I found it – well, I found it awkward and annoying at the time, but in retrospect very interesting. It was so, so clearly a transposition of internet behaviour into real life. Not that people didn’t yell at each other before we had Manboobz, but the repetition of talking points (Hugo Chavez! What is it with conservatives and Hugo Chavez?), the generally aggressive tone, the hyperbole, and the refusal to listen to THE PERSON ANSWERING YOU was so internetty. It’s like – do your dreams have camera angles? Mine do, probably due to the fact that I’ve been watching TV since I was born or so. An art form has literally changed the way we dream.

Now technology has literally changed the way we’re rude to each other.

What a time to be alive.

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– I didn’t expect to take 6 months off podcasting!
– Couldn’t talk about it and didn’t want to talk about anything else, then inertia took over
– There should be a law against child of former president becoming president – it’s unpleasantly monarchical
– Our own slow catastrophe in Toronto: Rob Ford
– He appears to be slowly turning Toronto into someplace where you drive everywhere and then go home and watch TV and you have to pay for everything and poor people are totally fucked
– Someday I’ll look back at this time and think “It would have been a different world”…

Link.

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Anyone else out there following either the #ows or the #occupytoronto streams on Twitter? Yes? No? What do you mean, you’re not on Twitter? It’s like Facebook, only you don’t have to be friends with boring people you don’t like! (Just kidding, Facebook friends. I love all of you.)

Well, I have been following them, especially since I’ve come down with a bad cold and am on Day 2 of Staying In Bed and Doing Nothing (with the help of two masters of that art, Madeline and Gus). About 25% of the streams are news about the occupations, relevant articles, calls to action, etc; about another 40% are retweets of the same; about 10% some kind of legitimate criticism; and the rest pure trollery.

I’m not going to post screenshots, because I’m writing this on my Android tablet and I’m not going to run the risk of rooting it just so I can take a screenshot (seriously, Google, PUT SCREENSHOT CAPABILITY INTO THE NEXT ANDROID RELEASE), but just go look for yourself.

Anyway, the troll comments seem to break down thus:
– Occupiers should just get jobs!
– Occupiers are hippies!
– Occupiers smell bad!
– Occupiers are smelly hippies!
– The whole thing is a union astroturf operation! People aren’t really sleeping there!
– The police should just go in and beat them all up!

And since Twitter is the natural home of the Gish Gallop, I will respond to each of these in turn. Here, where nobody will read it. Oh well.

Get a job! – Um, putting aside the whole “massive unemployment thing”, lots of occupiers do have jobs, and go to the occupations when they’re not working. There is this thing called “free time”, you know. Some people use it to watch Dancing with the Stars. Some people try to effect social change. Vive la difference!

Hippies! – What is this, 1965? How is this even an insult?

You stink! – This may be true for individual occupiers, but as a whole I have not noticed an unusual odour coming from Occupy Toronto. And I have the super nose of a pregnant lady.

Stinky hippies! – WTF? Are you four? First of all, you are making assumptions about the personal hygiene of the occupiers, then judging them based on that assumption without verifying it against reality. Not only is it not really true, it is completely irrelevant – because even smelly hippies HAVE CHARTER RIGHTS. Christ.

Ooga booga UNION ASTROTURF – this is the oddest one. Apparently dear old Ezra Levant went to Occupy Toronto with a thermal camera and concluded that most of the tents were empty, ergo this is all a nefarious plot on the part of CUPE to do….something or other.

I don’t know what percentage of tents are occupied every night, but it is true that not everyone spends every night at the park. That’s because of my first point: A lot of the occupiers have jobs, families, and other stuff to do. Ben has been sleeping there about 50% of the time, because as much as he believes in this he has to work, see me occasionally, and continue fixing up our house so it’s not a disaster area when the baby gets here. Plus it’s hardly some ringing denouncement of the occupation that some of its members sometimes have other stuff to do.

But if this is a union astroturf operation and I didn’t know about it, Ben’s cheque is way overdue, CUPE! Hop to it! We need a new washing machine!

I hope the police beat you up – Well, that’s nice. Haters gotta hate, I guess. I really hope the police *don’t* sweep in and beat everyone up, and I think I would feel the same way if this were the Occupation In Favour of Kicking Puppies and Stealing Candy from Babies. Because I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t want to see their political opponents assaulted. Call me crazy.

The gist of the trolls’ remarks (except for the out-of-left-field union conspiracy thing, which is I think a response to the very real astroturfing in the Tea Party movement) appears to be: I hate the occupiers because they are worthless and disgusting people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they keep talking about smells, even if they’ve never been in whiffing distance of St. James Park – for these people, the concepts of physical disgust and social value seem to be intertwined. (There is actual legit psychological research showing that exposing people to a foul odour makes them more conservative, btw.) It’s logically backwards – instead of looking at this movement, thinking it over, and coming to a conclusion about its merits, these trolls deciding the movement is valueless because the participants are valueless. And the participants are valueless because of their participation, which though nonsensically circular explains the baffling nature of some of the insults. Because if you were a good sort of person, you wouldn’t be occupying, so you must be a stinky unemployed hippie pariah who deserves nothing more than a good beating. And I know this even though I haven’t seen you, talked to you, or even smelled you.

There are legitimate criticisms of the Occupy movement. These are not them. These are a mishmash of weird essentialism, nonsense carried over from the 60s (seriously, can we stop it with the hippie thing? I wasn’t even a sperm in 1967 and I do not care about Woodstock), and straight-up authoritarian bootlicking. But like I said, haters gotta hate, so I don’t forsee them going away any time soon.

The Internet. It’s great, but jerks can use it too.

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*Note: If your comment on this contains any kind of victim-blaming, cop-fluffing, or the word “hippie” combined with any derogatory adjective, I will ban your ass faster than you can imagine. I am not in the mood to be Little Miss Constructive Dialogue today.*

The NYPD raided Zucotti Park last night. They beat people with batons, intimidated the press, destroyed personal property, and even threw out the 5000 or so books from the People’s Library.

And now they are refusing to let the occupiers return in spite of a court order ordering them to do so. (There is another hearing at 11:30. Maybe another court order will be clear enough for the NYPD!)

…I don’t have a response to this. I mean, what do you say? I’m disgusted but not surprised? So I’m going to try to be positive.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to read Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland – it’s a brick-sized tome examining the divisions in American politics and culture through the lens of Richard Nixon. (It’s very expensive to buy as a book, but you can get the audiobook from Audible for about $15.) A good deal of it is about protests, urban rioting, and the police response. And a pattern emerges:

– Some fringe people with nothing to lose protest something
– Most of the population ignores it
– Those in authority overreact
– The situation escalates, leading to police action, generally of a brutal and oppressive kind; there may be deaths
– The mainstream press either straight-up supports the police or waffles 
– Repeat;
– Eventually enough real information trickles through – enough pictures of men with batons beating up women, enough iterations of a rich man in a suit decrying poor people as lawbreaking scum, enough impassioned slogans making their way into the popular consciousness – to tip the balance in the public mind
– The most mainstream, watered-down goals of the movement are accepted and even enacted, though the truly radical ones are pushed aside as impractical.

You’ll never change the minds of the 20-30% of hard-core authoritarians among us – those for whom the powerful are always right, no matter what – but you will change the minds of the wafflers and the don’t-make-a-scene types, as long as it isn’t too far.

I don’t have any religious beliefs anymore; I don’t have faith that any god will come in and save us, or magically change everything for the better, or that we can pray/meditate/Secret ourselves into freedom. But I do have faith in people. That if we work together and listen to each other and try really hard we can make the world a little bit better for each other.

So when the cops are beating you and destroying your stuff, remember – it’s not much, I know – remember that what you are doing cannot fail to change the world, even if it’s only a little ground gained with the maximum of amount of pain. And even if I can’t be there to take the blows with you, I and millions of others are behind you.

And I will totally bake you some vegan cupcakes and bring them to you in jail.

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